13 May 2019
#Endthestigma: Supporting mental well-being to help employees thrive
Jo Sweetland catches up with Mark Dickinson-Keen, placed by Green Park as M&C Saatchi’s Group’s first ever Global Chief People Officer.
Mark Dickinson-Keen became M&C Saatchi Groups first-ever Global Chief People Officer in April 2021. A respected HR leader, he was one of seven exceptional candidates sourced by Green Park’s Executive Search Practice. Since joining M&C Saatchi, Mark’s not only found his feet but instigated exciting, positive changes for this global communications network. A year into his role, Jo Sweetland, Managing Director of Green Park’s Private Sector Practice caught up with Mark to find out how he’s progressing.
It’s coming up to the end of your first year at M&C Saatchi. What kind of impact do you feel you’ve made?
The big picture was about securing commitment to a global people strategy. Historically, M&C Saatchi has been an extremely federated group of businesses – 40 different companies in 23 countries. One of the reasons my role was created was to drive a shift in strategy towards a more connected company. Connected externally – linking up our regions and specialisms to tackle bigger client contracts and connected internally – leveraging the scale of the network and the functions that help the businesses to operate.
Another big part of the job has been addressing the executive remuneration agenda, which is highly complex. It’s been about achieving alignment, so a key part of my role has been designing the future incentive arrangements that would enable the businesses to pivot away from the current minority shareholdings arrangement without losing any key talent. In a people business, the senior people really are strategically critical to the resilience of the company. I’ve been leading the company through the pivot while retaining talent. So far, we’ve managed to do that without losing any senior people.
These are fundamental changes – could you tell us more?
Getting the business to agree that it needs a global approach to the people agenda has been critical. In the past, this has been addressed at a country or business level. Now there is agreement and recognition that there is power in the network and in the M&C Saatchi brand globally. We’re currently agreeing a roadmap to help the many businesses start doing some of the people initiatives they might find more difficult on their own. I’m navigating the task selectively, working out where a group approach would be better and where businesses are better off working individually. After all, each business brings its own unique differences that are actually beneficial for the client. For example, I quickly established that things such as values, the brand and all the sub-cultures are actually healthy. They’re what enable businesses to compete in their own markets. We therefore had to guard against an inclination to standardise and harmonise everything. The key is to acknowledge that it is sometimes commercially helpful to be different, but also identify where we’re missing an opportunity at group-level.
These opportunities have formed the focus areas for our global people strategy. For each focus area, there are signature actions that have already happened and a two-year roadmap that sets out the actions to come.
What about HR itself? How have you developed the function at M&C Saatchi?
My first two focus areas were executive remuneration and the global people strategy. My third focus area is building a small, specialist centralised HR function – setting a vision for what we want HR to be: a value-adding, tech-enabled People Function. I used an existing audit to find out exactly where all HR staff were working in M&C Saatchi businesses around the world and then established a programme of change for the HR function globally. It’s bringing 55 disparate people together into one function. There’s been some restructuring and a lot of investment.
I’ve also launched a community of practice called the People Network. It’s a virtual function of 55 people around the world who all come together for their professional development, for education, career opportunities and project opportunities. It launched in January 2022. The system is very democratic – if you have anything to do with the employee experience, you’re part of the People Network.
In the meantime, we’re putting HR capability into markets where it doesn’t exist and we’ve completely restructured the UK HR team in line with a more standard HR model. That means there’s a whole other scheme of work to establish HR as a credible, strategic, value-adding function.
In addition to building a centralised HR function, you’ve also been moving the dial on diversity. What has that involved?
We’ve prioritised Ethics, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI). It’s a key focus area that makes up the global people strategy. We focused on the UK to begin with and we’ve collected and analysed data about the lived experience of our people. We’ve used that insight to inform a new EDI framework that we’ve already launched in the UK with a two-year roadmap of four commitments and 21 action points. Each commitment is a ‘pillar’: People (which is all about representation); Culture; Industry; and Community. In each pillar, we’re taking action to move the dial on EDI. This is relatively recent, so although the company doesn’t feel like a different place yet, there are big shifts happening.
In the meantime, I’ve given briefings on the EDI structure to every one of our 15 UK businesses and got all of our UK CEOs on a mandatory three-month development programme. We’ve also appointed Diversity Champions in every UK business and we’ve got six high-functioning employee resource groups.
Another initiative is the M&C Saatchi Saturday School, which offers entrepreneurism training to people who might not otherwise have access to it. Plus, we’ve co-founded an organisation called Mentor Black Business that provides black entrepreneurs with thousands of hours of free mentoring.
All of this is wrapped in a bigger commitment to ESG. Since I joined, M&C Saatchi has appointed a Head of Sustainability and we now also have three people working in Sustainability, either within the company or within LIFE, a new consultancy that’s set to help clients inject sustainability into their marketing. I worked closely with the ESG Director to bring EDI under the ESG umbrella. Our ESG strategy is called Action.
What advice would you give to other Chief People Officers?
Show don’t tell. Do the next few months. Get things delivered. Don’t talk about your value; demonstrate it, demonstrate the effect it has. I now have people asking me ‘Can we invest in an HR person for our business?” They’re realising their business can fly if they invest in their talent.
I think the secret is not asking for permission. Just get on with the things that will help your organisation right now, and people will start to trust your judgement and instinct. Focus on things that will genuinely give your business a lift. If that means sorting out remuneration, then do it. The bigger picture is to take the wins where you need them and build permission to be bolder and more strategic as you go. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect on day one. Work towards it.
My ambition at M&C Saatchi is to make the employee experience and inclusivity of our organisation a magnet for talent. I think we could be the best employer in our sector because we have really strong purpose AND we work really hard to give each of businesses independence, freedom and identity. People come to us when they want meaningful work – that’s what we’re known for and what we can offer. I would like the company to grow and evolve but stay true to its heritage and entrepreneurial environment. It’s all about getting the balance right.”
Mark Dickinson-Keen is a commercially focused HR Leader with 20 years’ experience of shaping people strategies and delivering people-related solutions in complex and fast-moving environments.
Read the case study on how Green Park placed Mark Dickinson-Keen here.
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